What to Expect at the Best Eating Disorder Treatment Centers
No matter what stage of eating disorder recovery you’re in, it’s normal to experience doubts about eating disorder treatment. You might have questions about what type of treatment is best for you, what to expect from your treatment plan, or what life is like for someone in eating disorder treatment.
Your first day of eating disorder treatment will look slightly different depending on where you go. In general, the best eating disorder treatment centers all take a similar approach to treating eating disorders. Here’s what to expect from an eating disorder treatment program at one of the country’s best eating disorder treatment centers.
Arriving at the Eating Disorder Treatment Center
Upon arrival on your first day of eating disorder treatment, you might feel nervous about what to expect from an eating disorder treatment center. Whether this is your first time at an eating disorder treatment program or you are a veteran of eating disorder treatment, it’s normal and natural to feel some anxiety in a new situation.
We can assure you that the best eating disorder treatment centers have only your best interests in mind. With that goal at the forefront of their minds, the staff and clinicians at the eating disorder treatment center may want to gather some initial information about you upon your arrival at the clinic. This information helps them develop a treatment plan for you in conjunction with the trained medical professionals working there, so you can have the best chances of success in eating disorder recovery.
You can expect to meet with a variety of people on your first day at an eating disorder treatment facility, including:
- A nurse who completes a physical assessment and labs that will help monitor your physical condition. They will likely take your measurements, including height and weight. Labs may include blood tests and an EKG to assess heart function.
- A medical doctor who reviews the results of your labs with you and discusses any complications, issues, or special treatment needs that may come up during your assessment. You can expect them to ask many questions about your health history, including the progression of your eating disorder. Medical issues a doctor may treat eating disorder patients for include electrolyte imbalance, low heart rate, slow digestion, anemia, and kidney failure.
- Your personalized treatment team, which will include a psychiatrist, therapist, and dietitian. These clinicians will want to complete detailed health assessments about your mental health and current diet to assess where you are and what your first goals should be in eating disorder treatment. This is also an exciting opportunity to get to know the treatment team you will develop a close relationship with throughout eating disorder treatment.
- A business representative, who may want to meet with you to discuss the practicalities of your eating disorder treatment. Things they may want to discuss with you could include health insurance benefits, payment, and any of their office’s other administrative needs before beginning treatment.
At some point during your day, you will also receive a tour of the eating disorder treatment facility so you can become familiar with the new environment you will begin to call home. We understand that all this information can be overwhelming. Over time, we promise you will start to develop a routine and find it easier to cope with the changes from eating disorder recovery.
The Eating Disorder Treatment Process
Top eating disorder treatment centers follow clear procedures and protocols based on the best and most recently available research in eating disorder treatment. This process is designed to give you the best chance of a full recovery. However, it may be frustrating or emotionally challenging at times to deal with the various steps of eating disorder recovery.
Many considerations come into play when designing an eating disorder treatment plan for any patient. These concerns include weigh-ins, meals, therapy, and social support.
We understand that the issue of weight can be uncomfortable for someone in recovery from an eating disorder. That being said, your weight is an essential metric for your treatment team to track to help them determine if you are physically and mentally well. To balance the need to track weight gain with patients’ mental health concerns, the top eating disorder treatment centers practice blind weigh-ins. This allows the patient to be weighed so only the staff knows what the number on the scale says. This helps prevent any uncomfortable emotions associated with weight gain or loss in your recovery. At the end of the day, however, while it’s important to restore your weight for your physical health, your weight is not an accurate measure of whether or not you have recovered. Your well-being — physically, mentally, and nutritionally — is most important to both you and your treatment team.
You might be concerned about what you will eat during eating disorder treatment. Many patients with eating disorders come into treatment with a list of “safe” foods they are willing to eat. Learning to be okay with breaking these food rules is an important step in eating disorder recovery.
Even so, your meals still require some structure to ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs. You will work with your dietitian to plan out your meals for the week ahead, learning what components are most important to maintaining a healthy, balanced diet that provides you with enough energy to get through the day.
Every eating disorder treatment center approaches meal planning differently, with some facilities allowing you to choose from a pre-set number of meal options and others, allowing you some more flexibility. Regardless, you will take meals under the supervision of staff alongside other patients throughout your eating disorder recovery.
In addition to solid foods, you may need to take supplements to support your nutritional needs during eating disorder treatment. For some patients, this may mean drinking a nutritional supplement like Boost or Ensure to increase their intake of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients.
For others, this could mean augmenting oral refeeding (i.e., meals taken “normally,” via chewing and swallowing) with nasogastric (NG) tube feeding. An NG tube may be required if you are failing to gain a healthy amount of weight in the early stages of eating disorder recovery. It may also be used to support increased caloric needs in the later stages of eating disorder recovery, when it may not be possible to get enough nutrients from solid food alone.
You may be scared or worried about needing an NG tube during eating disorder recovery since it can seem frightening and uncomfortable at first. Only your treatment team can say for sure if you may need one, Though you may be nervous, it’s important to remember that they are here to support you throughout your recovery, and to trust them to make the best decisions to promote your health and well-being.
You might also worry about how much you will need to eat during your eating disorder recovery and how you will feel about weight gain as your eating disorder treatment progresses. While it’s important to focus on hunger and satiety clues rather than numbers, you should know that your treatment team will keep an eye on how much you are eating to ensure you do not gain weight too quickly. You can expect them to start you at a diet of 2,000 to 2,500 calories and slowly increase your caloric intake by about 250 calories at a time. Controlling the rate at which you add calories and gain weight helps prevent refeeding syndrome, a dangerous complication of eating disorders that can result in electrolyte imbalance, heart or kidney failure, and even death. Though this may sound scary, you don’t need to worry: eating disorder treatment professionals are trained to prevent and treat refeeding syndrome and will do everything within their power to keep you safe during your eating disorder recovery.
Weight restoration is often the first goal in eating disorder treatment. After all, it can be challenging to focus on your mental health when your body is being deprived of calories and nutrients. (Ever experienced brain fog when you’ve gotten too hungry? Us too!)
However, in many cases, eating disorder treatment centers thrust patients into the therapeutic process from the beginning to support them throughout their eating disorder recovery. You can expect to have a mixture of individual and group sessions with eating disorder treatment professionals during your time at the eating disorder recovery center.
Treatment professionals include therapists, who have Master’s degrees or doctorates in social work or counseling, and psychiatrists who have attended medical school and completed a psychiatry fellowship. The significant difference between therapists and psychiatrists is that in most states, psychiatrists are the only ones who can prescribe mental health medication.
You can expect to have individual sessions with a therapist up to four times per week, meet with a psychiatrist at least once a week, and spend up to six to eight hours a day in group therapy to help you develop interpersonal relationships with others in treatment.
Humans are social creatures, which is part of what makes eating disorder treatment so difficult. You may be isolated from your family and friends outside the eating disorder treatment center while receiving care for your eating disorder.
Eating disorder treatment professionals recognize the importance of these relationships to our physical and mental health. This is why the eating disorder treatment process is designed to help you develop relationships with other patients at the treatment center.
From the first day, you can expect to take your meals with other patients in eating disorder recovery. You will also spend many hours per day in group therapy sessions, which can help you gain insight into others’ feelings and develop interpersonal relationships with others.
These relationships are an important eating disorder recovery tool, as you can support one another and hold each other accountable throughout the recovery process.
Eating disorder treatment comes with a lot of “what ifs.” We hope this article has helped prepare you with an understanding of what to expect when you attend an eating disorder treatment facility for the first time.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, know that our treatment center is here to support you in the ways described in this article. Our staff includes trained nurses, physicians, dieticians, and therapists who are well-versed in the treatment of eating disorders and prepared to guide you throughout the recovery process.